EUKUMINDO Study Day 2012
September 21, 2012
“Economic Justice – a Christian Witness”
The Accra Confession
(Theological background and the process since Accra 2004)
By Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi
WCRC General Secretary
My presentation will take us through three subheadings:
1. An introduction to the Accra Confession – a theological background
2. How the Accra Confession is being implemented and its current status
3. Challenges for the community of churches that form Eukumindo
An introduction to the Accra Confession
Reformed people believe in the sovereignty of God over all aspects of life – not just the spiritual. Therefore, any sphere of life which seems to be contradicting God’s sovereignty needs to be challenged. We are called to serve God and not mammon. Our commitment to applying faith in this manner is first and foremost a theological action, not a social one – it comes from a conviction that God is sovereign over all,
and therefore we who are called by God’s name pray and commit our lives into God’s hands for a world which recognises God’s sovereignty.
Historically, when the values we have as Reformed people have been challenged,
one of the ways in which we have addressed this is to come up with some clear statements that hold us together as a people who are in the same covenant with God and with one another. These clear statements are commonly called confessions. Confessions have been a part of Christian history since the very beginning. Confessions have been the clear statements by which Christians have articulated
their faith. The shortest form of confession of faith is recorded for us in passages such as Philippians 2:11 – “JESUS IS LORD”.
The Reformation family of churches has generally used “confession” to describe clear statements that articulate a faith stance of the church. Confessions emerged in the Reformation churches in the 16th and 17th centuries to account for the faith, to counter false doctrines and to be used for teaching sound doctrines. Some confessions were accompanied by catechisms. These we have in common with other Reformation churches.
The early ancestors of the Reformed family acknowledged that confessions were of a regional and temporary nature although they point to universal truths and have to be accountable to Scripture and are surpassable by Scripture. Reformed churches affirm the traditional creeds – especially the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Then we have some specific Reformed confessions which include the Belgique Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession, etc. We also have modern day confessions such as the Barmen Declaration of 1934 and the Belhar Confession of 1986.
I am thankful that historically the Reformed faith has taught us that we cannot stay silent in the face of difficult realities. Our response of covenanting for life against death and destruction is consistent with being Reformed.
When the World Alliance of Reformed Churches gathered at its 24 th General Council in Accra, Ghana in August 2004, we had for several years been gathering in our covenantal relationship. With the theme “That all may have life in fullness” our covenant led, among other things, to the Accra Confession.
I want to reflect on one of the standards we have in an effort to expose the false doctrines of our days. Today’s false doctrines include limiting God’s sovereignty to a narrowly defined spiritual realm. If we had followed this false doctrine in the 16 th century, or in the 1930s when Nazism was at its worst, or in the decades of apartheid in South Africa, our witness would have been tarnished. The question is
“Can we apply this standard to issues brought on by the ways in which oikounomos takes place in God’s world?” Let us remember that both oikoumene and oikounomos come to us from the same root oikos. We cannot yield to a rather mediocre view in which the powers that manage God’s household today convince us that individual needs and greeds are more important than that of the community, and that privatisation and the unbridled profit motive are paramount even if they oppress large numbers of people. Without a critical analysis, we could be engaged in idolatry in which particular economic systems become gods – the only solution. Eukumindo has the same roots and therefore in our reflections we need to go deep in our analysis on this study day, so that we can manage God’s household entrusted to us whether in Indonesia or here in Europe.
Biblical witness holds that the household ought to be managed for the sake of community. Therefore, any economic doctrine or practice which breaks community (especially the covenantal community) stands under judgement. Any economic system which does not foster right relationships is doing something other than managing the household properly.
The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) have so much to say about managing the household so that all may live in peace – each under his or her fig tree. The picture we get from the Bible is that God places special value in taking care of the poor, the
marginalised, the stranger and calls for management systems which take everyone into account. There are many references to ensuring that strangers in the midst of the people of God are not neglected.
In the New Testament, there are many pointers to the scandal of treating the rich with more respect than the poor. Even the parable of the last judgement (the sheep and the goat) lifts up practical commitments and actions “to the least of these” as what the Lord was looking for as a sign of faith. In defining His mission, Jesus indicated His coming to release from captivity those who are imprisoned, to free the oppressed, to open the eyes of the blind. These are all values that contradict popular views of managing the household in which the strong, the rich, the influential are those who get all the attention.
If God is indeed sovereign over all of life, how can we stand it when in this 21st century, large sections of people are suffering and dying because of the way the world’s economy is arranged and because of all the distortions? How can we stay silent when many people in these situations go to churches with which we are in communion? Again the question is relevant when we think about communities in
These millions are forced to subsist with access to under one dollar a day. A large number of those do not have anything to eat for the most part of each week. There is lack of access to good water while even the privatisation of water is going on. Health care is out of reach for many families in the South. Good education is available only to those who can afford it. These are the cries we are hearing from Indonesia, from the entire continent of Asia and Africa and other parts of the world. Can we say we belong to the same oikoumene when the management of that oikos benefits only a few?
The biblical evidence points to God caring for the plight of those who suffer and calls on believers to show this kind of care – challenging household systems that do not exhibit this care. How can we stay silent when the way the household is managed leads to death for some people in the household?
In the tradition of Reformed confessions, the Accra Confession is a response to how we read three things:
1. The Word of God
2. The meaning of our faith
3. The signs of our times
These three are very critical ingredients of a true Reformed confession. They were therefore important pillars for the Accra Confession. As I give you a rather quick walk through the Confession, let me make note of the major principles in the Confession.
A. First, we were careful to note that in the Reformed family many would like to ensure that confession is applied only to what is seen clearly as doctrinal issues. WCRC member churches have different views regarding this interpretation. And, therefore, we felt a clear need to define how we use the word “confession”. It is to express an urgent and active faith response to the major challenge of our times. It is contrary to our faith to remain silent or refuse to act in the face of current economic systems which are literally killing people especially in our parts of the world. This is where the confession begins – the integrity of our faith is at stake.
B. Secondly, the Accra Confession has a two-step move in each verse. “We believe, therefore we reject”. We are not simply the bandwagon of “antis” – rejecting everything that does not fit our social outlook. No. It is not an NGO declaration. It is a confession made by people of faith as a result of our faith. Therefore the basis of what we say “NO” to should be what we elieve, documented biblically. This move is therefore very important. It is that which leads us to reject anything that is contrary to the faith we have.
C. Thirdly, it concludes with a commitment. This is not a convenient set of nice words to recite on Sunday and soothe our consciences. It entails our owning up on our own responsibility, confessing the part we play and responding to its demands on us. It is humbling – and we too, churches and church structures, individuals and groups in churches, need to acknowledge that we stand in judgement under the claims of faith inherent in this Confession. Therefore a commitment on our part is called for. Hence the last part.
You can find the Accra Confession on our website and also in Appendix 13 of the Accra Proceedings. It is not ideological in nature. In fact, it criticises both neoliberal economies and absolute planned economies (Par. 19).
Some excerpts from the Accra Confession
At this juncture, it is important to walk through some verses of the Accra Confession. This will confirm our conviction that the Accra Confession comes to give a clear prophetic stance that challenges us to justice and right relationships in our communities so that all can have life in fullness.
- We believe in God, Creator and Sustainer of all life, who calls us as partners in the creation and redemption of the world. We live under the promise that Jesus Christ came so that all might have life in fullness (Jn 10.10). Guided and upheld by the Holy Spirit we open ourselves to the reality of our world.
- We believe that God is sovereign over all creation. "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof " (Ps 24.1).
- Therefore, we reject the current world economic order imposed by global neoliberal capitalism and any other economic system, including absolute planned economies, which defy God’s covenant by excluding the poor, the vulnerable and the whole of creation from the fullness of life. We reject any claim of economic, political and military empire which subverts God’s sovereignty over life and acts contrary to God’s just rule.
- We believe that God has made a covenant with all of creation (Gen 9.8- 12). God has brought into being an earth community based on the vision of justice and peace. The covenant is a gift of grace that is not for sale in the market place (Is 55.1). It is an economy of grace for the household of all of creation. Jesus shows that this is an inclusive covenant in which the poor and marginalized are preferential partners and calls us to put justice for the "least of these" (Mt 25.40) at the centre of the community of life. All creation is blessed and included in this covenant (Hos 2.18ff).
- Therefore we reject the culture of rampant consumerism and the competitive greed and selfishness of the neoliberal global market system or any other system which claims there is no alternative.
- We believe that any economy of the household of life given to us by God’s covenant to sustain life is accountable to God. We believe the economy xists to serve the dignity and wellbeing of people in community, within the ounds of the sustainability of creation. We believe that human beings are alled to choose God over Mammon and that confessing our faith is an act of obedience.
- Therefore we reject the unregulated accumulation of wealth and limitless growth that has already cost the lives of millions and destroyed much of God’s creation.
- We believe that God is a God of justice. In a world of corruption, exploitation and greed, God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, the exploited, the wronged and the abused (Ps 146.7-9). God calls for just relationships with all creation.
- Therefore we reject any ideology or economic regime that puts profits before people, does not care for all creation and privatizes those gifts of God meant for all. We reject any teaching which justifies those who support, or fail to resist, such an ideology in the name of the gospel. This is the vision offered by the Accra Confession. It is also challenging. Because to say we believe and therefore we reject has no credibility unless we are prepared to walk our talk.
I offer some challenges that churches in Indonesia and Europe and all believers can consider engaging in as God’s agents in God’s work of bringing ubuntu and shalom to our communities – in responding to the call for justice.
1. Pray. Now you may ask, is prayer a challenge? Prayer is the means by which we communicate with God. It is an intimate two way street of one person, two or more persons or a community in worship communicating with God. It is not a docile activity of presenting God with a shopping list, and then sitting back and relaxing saying – “God will take care of it”. The important term there is “communicating with” not “talking to”. This is where the danger in prayer lies. As we communicate with God, God might call us to do something about what we are praying about. In fact many times that is God’s chosen method of responding – we get invited to be part of addressing what we are praying about. So if you do not want to be called by God to do something about what is on your heart, do not bother to pray. But how can we not pray when God has given us such a wonderful gift – fullness of life and granted us the vision to live it and be part of bringing it to others?
2. Reading and re-reading the Word of God. Understanding the texts and the original contexts as well as understanding our own contexts can offer fresh channels for God’s fresh revelations relevant for our days. This is especially the case for rural churches. Many insights that come to us from the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ are based on rural experience. Let us capitalize on that. Karl Barth has often been quoted as advocating for having the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Responding to the call to be effective parts of the community includes drawing from our spiritual resources in strengthening the basis from which we act and get our mandate with full
3. Mediating fullness of life for all. Lessons from the theology of the cross are not limited to the internal life of the church. Yes, people need to hear of the good news that brings justification and meaning into lives. For the Reformed, justification is linked with sanctification which among other things expresses itself in how we live in society. It therefore helps us be attentive to the millions of people who are suffering as a result of spiritual emptiness, poverty, disease, economic and environmental injustice, conflicts, etc. – both Christians and non-Christians — in the light of Jesus’ coming so that all may have fullness of life. Many have very little opportunity to experience the “life in fullness” for which Jesus Christ came, very often because of the selfish and callous actions of people in their locality or nation or sometimes from faraway lands. When the toils and sweat of rural folks only better life for folks in the urban areas, then we need rural churches to be effective advocates for something more life-giving. If we have truly experienced the cross as liberating, how can our lives and our messages proclaim the good news in word and action?
4. Prophetic witness. Reformed people understand our calling to include being prophetic in advocacy, challenging the forces of evil and death, and speaking in places where the victims of oppression, injustice and suffering do not have a voice or presence to speak. This aspect of proclamation is meaningless without commitment to action. It is not simply something that is declared in resolutions at meetings. Our actions, yes, even those which make us vulnerable and at odds with the powerful forces which benefit from the suffering, enable many to see the wonderful deeds of God. It is in essence a living critic of structures and systems — whether in church or society — which contradict life. It is part of the Reformed ethos to be agents of transformation in this way – reforming, criticising and changing whatever contradicts the fullness of life for which Jesus Christ came. This is not simply offering charity, but doing the critical analysis and actions that make for transformation from the roots. I hope you can find resources such as the Accra Confession useful in such processes.
How the Accra Confession is being implemented and current status
Soon after we came back from Accra, we invited all member churches to put it on their General Assembly and Synod agendas and to discuss ways in which the Accra Confession can be appropriated and used in their contexts. We had some critical questions from several European and American churches. The questions were mainly around the use of the word “Empire” and the term “neo-liberal”. From
Germany in particular we had questions on the word used to translate “we reject”. We also referred churches to the Action Plan that was developed in Accra to help address economic and ecological questions.
We embarked on a period of discussions and dialogue. I am glad to say a good number of our member churches took it seriously and had vigorous discussions. My colleagues and I organised a number of seminars, and also resourced workshops organised by some of our member churches.
By 2008 when the economic melt-down had begun, many of our churches started asking fresh questions on the relevance of the Accra Confession because they began to see that the concerns of the Accra Confession did not only apply to the South. They were very much alive also in the Global North.
One significant development was that in 2005, I was invited by one of our member churches in Germany to the gathering of all their pastors. The main topic was the Accra Confession. I gave them a challenge to consider engaging in a discussion with one of their partners in the Global South on the Accra Confession. They took me up on this challenge. The Evangelical Reformed Church of Germany and the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa embarked on a four year process that was eye opening to both sides. That process gave us new insights which impacted decisions which were taken at the Uniting General Council in June 2010. For example, we now have a new definition of empire which has been felt to be helpful in both the Global North and the Global South.
Some churches are far more advanced in ensuring that the values of the Accra Confession form part of their consciousness of carrying out the mission of God. Others have simply shelved the Accra Confession. Many others are at various levels. The hope is that all of us will see the urgency of addressing our economy and ecology from our faith standpoint.
It is an instrument not just for the Reformed family, but for the entire ecumenical movement. We have worked closely with the World Council of Churches and the Council for World Mission in implementation. The Oikotree Network is one of the instruments of such working together. It also complements the AGAPE process of the WCC. We are about to have a conference on a new Financial and Ecumenical architecture. This also is a result of the Accra Confession. It remains an important instrument and we in the WCRC intend to keep drawing on it for effective witness. Addressing economic injustice is part of our Christian witness
“I came that they may have life, and have it in fullness” thus saith the Lord. It is a gift. It is a vision. We have pointed to one tool from the World Communion of Reformed Churches which reflects this vision – the Accra Confession. And we have named some challenges.
Justice in our times, justice for people in Indonesia and all people on planet Earth – this will bring much hope especially to young people. When we make this a priority, we are first and foremost being faithful to God and to the calling placed on us. We are also engaged in something that identifies us with the struggles of people in therefore usher in hope for many. It helps us contribute to a more sustainable world. I would like to thank you for the opportunity of sharing this presentation with you. Let us be guided by God’s Holy Spirit in daring to go where the Spirit leads.